What the traditional academe can learn from innovative schools: Taking the case of Foundation University


The academic world has constantly been criticized for being archaic and slow. But things are roaring for change down at Foundation University (FU) in Dumaguete City, Philippines.

FU was awarded in 2015 by the Department of Energy and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau as the most sustainable school in the Philippines. In the past years, they have been speeding up their sustainability and social innovation initiatives.

A canteen within Foundation University, which was designed by its president. The ceiling was designed with bamboo.
Foundation University maintains a hydroponics farm in one of the rooftops of their buildings. The hydroponics farm is also being used by the school’s agriculture students.

Part of these initiatives is a special event last September 20, 2019 entitled “Entrepreneurship and my Future“, where the university invited MakeSense Philippines to hold a social initiative creation workshop. MakeSense is an international organization that organizes and promotes initiatives on sustainability.

In the long run, FU aims to integrate sustainability into its curriculum. They plan to do this by making the different colleges and disciplines work together in academic outputs like theses and projects, among others.

This was also the first time that a social innovation event of this kind was held in FU. During the workshop, the students had brilliant ideas to solve some issues found in their local communities. Among some of these include plastic waste solutions, solid waste management, and solving unintended teen pregnancy.

The panel members speak during a discussion session of Foundation University’s event, “Entrepreneurship and my Future”.

A unique selling point with FU is that they have already began the path on creating systemic networks not just within their departments and colleges, but also with external innovative organizations like MakeSense. Being that their sustainability initiatives are relatively young, they have many opportunities to tweak and experiment along the way.

There is one buzzword for FU’s innovativeness: systems. By creating social innovation networks, FU is able to leverage on a rich pool of individuals and organizations that are sustainability-oriented. They are also able to integrate sustainability on an internal level, specifically in their curriculum and students.

This is something that many other academic institutions can buy into. With systemic issues plaguing us locally and globally, now is the time to move fast. If it would take the traditional academe to radically shift its focus on sustainability and innovation networks both internally in its curriculum and externally with innovative organizations, then now would be the opportune time.

The social garden in Foundation University.

Partnering for marine conservation


Nowadays it’s difficult to paint a bright picture of the planet in the face of climate change, but we can at least try.

That’s what we did during the second part of our Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series in MakeSense Philippines, this time tackling beaches!

I’ve been a volunteer in MakeSense for over a year now. The first event that our team organized was Sustainable Tourism: Tribes, and we can proudly claim that event as a success as well. We were able to gather over 30+ people and exchange ideas during that event.

This time, we invited different people with initiatives related to sustainable tourism and the beach. Our panel members come from different sectors, from the academe down to the industry. One of our main goals for the event was to find synergies among these different people coming from different backgrounds. Despite their differences, they’re each working for the same thing, which is the conservation of our beaches and waters. 

I know this sounds like a very academic and ideal thing to do. But it’s something that we can strive towards. 

Personally, my career right now revolves around the academe. In the academe, you’re taught and trained to think of the ideal and what the world should strive towards. At the same time, I can honestly admit that what we lack is an accurate grasp of the realities on the ground. Several of my colleagues can attest to this. However, despite being a weakness, these are the exact leverage points that the academe can work with together with the industry. If the academe has insights or models for a better future, industries are at the pedestal to execute these. This is where the synergies among different sectors come in. 

But how exactly will these synergies work?

In Sustainable Tourism: Beaches, we gained insights as to how this can be possible. One of our speakers, a coral reel scientist, talks about how there are only less than 100 marine scientists in the Philippines working to protect our coral reefs. With more than 7,000 islands in the country, clearly this number is not enough to monitor the coral reefs. According to him, only 2% of organizations working on corals employ marine scientists. 

This is a possible entry point for cross-sector partnerships. This is where collaboration comes in, because not one sector alone can save our coral reefs. 

And this just so happens to be another one of the main goals of the Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series. If we can identify synergies and collaborations among different sectors, we will have better chances of saving Mother Earth. In this case — protecting and conserving our marine biodiversity. 

Public apology: My article on the Tagakolu people


Last June 11, 2019, I had an article published through Manila Bulletin titled “Traversing the Malita mountains: A week with the peace-loving Tagakolu people”. It was an article I wrote in line with my volunteer experience with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute during May 2019. I was a class documenter for a week-long activity with the Matamis Mission Station in Malita, Davao Occidental, Philippines.

The article was published both in print and online—which means it has already been distributed nationwide. I have also seen a number of people who have read and shared the article online. I, personally, have shared it in my Facebook account.

While I had good intentions on writing the article (mainly to share the story of the Tagakolu), I must apologize for having published one that provides severely superficial information and does a disservice to the Tagakolu community. My article has also contributed to the body of writing that stereotypes Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Clearly, this is not something to be proud of.

The printed copies have already been distributed, and unfortunately the online version can no longer be brought down. Although some contents of the online version have already been revised, this does not change the fact that I have written and had an article published that does not accurately reflect the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of the Tagakolu people. Writing about sensitive topics, especially those that are related to culture, should be done with tempered enthusiasm and extensive consultation.

Apart from this, what worsened the situation was that I did not consult the Matamis Mission team about the content of the article nor inform the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute about my intention to write an article. I just went straight to having it published. I was unable to temper my enthusiasm in terms of writing and publishing the article, and I would like to express my apologies for having done so.

This has been a big learning process and experience for me as a freelance writer.

I also want to take this as an opportunity to remind writers/researchers like myself to further temper our enthusiasm. We must continuously ensure that we obtain accurate and culturally sensitive information in whatever form of writing we are engaged with. While there have been many cases of writing in which authors have stereotyped certain groups of people—one being Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines—I do not wish to be like them and leave mistakes like this without a well-deserved apology.

Once again, I would like to say sorry to the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, Matamis Mission Team, and the Tagakolu community.

If you want to know more about the Tagakolu community, you can visit this website: https://malitatagakaulomission.weebly.com/.  It was created by the Matamis Mission Team at the service of the Tagakolu, and at the service of the Church doing ministry with and among the Tagakolu. 

Why going for the environment is healthy for the organization


This post was made in collaboration with Bambuhay’s Green Session titled “Why going for the environment is healthy for the organization”.

Last August 10, 2019, my sustainability friends/advocates and I went to a seminar organized by Bambuhay, a social enterprise in the Philippines known for its bamboo straws and other eco-friendly products. The seminar invited three guest speakers: yours truly, my friend who is a zero waste advocate, and Colin Steley, the APAC Director of Stratcon Singapore. We each presented our advocacy and answered some questions that our audience had during the open forum.

For me, I took the opportunity to talk about Berde Boy, my sustainability blog. I shared what led to the creation of my blog, why blogging about sustainability is important, and how blogging can be used by social enterprises as a leverage for their publicity and social media traction. What was most interesting to me, however, were the insights shared during the open forum.

One is the possibility of me creating vlogs/videos about my experiences in sustainability. It was brought up as a question by one of the audience members. I told her that her suggestion was very timely, because for the past weeks, I have been considering on creating vlogs as additional content for my blog. This is one thing I’ll be working on in the very, very near future, so I’m excited to launch these in my blog.

The questions raised by the audience on sustainability practices also caught our attention. For one, I’m glad that the youth is engaged in so many initiatives related to sustainability. Second, I learned that the youth is also spreading their advocacy through their social media channels. Like what I do in my blog, one of my goals is really to spread awareness and let everyone know that there are plenty of solutions to our sustainability issues today. Third, zero waste is one of the youth’s top concerns when it comes to sustainability. I also gave an insight that — what if, we referred to it as ‘low impact’ instead? Zero waste comes from the notion that waste can be completely eliminated, although I do not think this is humanely possible. Hence, low impact sounds like a more feasible approach. It tells us to minimize our waste as much as possible, but considering that we live in a modern society, waste altogether cannot be easily eliminated.

The highlight of the seminar was Colin’s talk about Stratcon Singapore and the Green Business Bureau — two companies he is currently working with. Colin provided us a high-level discussion on sustainability, specifically on using data and metrics to help businesses become ‘green’.

Following all the talks, we had a networking session with the audience members and our fellow speakers. Indeed, creating networks and collaborations in the local sustainability sector would later create ripples, which would become waves and tides. This is why we do what we do.

Rebranding to… Berde Boy!


Hello everyone!

I have rebranded my blog, Triple Bottom Line, to Berde Boy.

I decided to give my blog an overhaul and apply a more relaxed, friendly vibe. I will still write about my insights on sustainability, but this time with a lens and mindset that can be easily understood hopefully by anyone. With Berde Boy, I’m also able to apply personal touches, as compared to using the name Triple Bottom Line (which, let’s face it, sounds too serious for a personal blog and sounds confusingly like a news channel). And after all, sustainability is everyone’s concern, so what better way to present it as this hip, trendy, and impactful phenomenon in the world today. For a better and more sustainable world, let’s keep hoping and dreaming.

This is a big jump for me as my sustainability blog will now go towards a completely new direction. The previous name of my blog, Triple Bottom Line, was meant to share stories on sustainability. Berde Boy is no different. What makes the new brand unique, however, is that it tackles sustainability on a lighter note — something that can easily be mentally digested for curious readers, first-time sustainability advocates, and many others. And of course, with your help, this blog can become successful someday. For sustainability and a better world — let’s write about it.

For collaborations, email me at ianbrmia@gmail.com.

The spirit of volunteerism


Last May 2019, I joined a one-month volunteer work as a class assistant and documenter in the annual training of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI). It consisted of classroom-based and field-based courses—the ones I was assigned to include fundamentals of peacebuilding, monitoring and evaluation for peacebuilding practitioners, and indigenous peoples’ culture-based conflict resolution practices and its potential contributions to mainstream peacebuilding in the Philippines. As depicted by the titles given to the courses, the organization provides training to peacebuilders around the world who work in various contexts of peace and conflict.

Though it was not directly related to my current field in social entrepreneurship—I simply came to the training to offer my skills in documentation. I was even asked briefly during the training, “So what are you doing here?”—to which I replied, “Exploring”.

That question and answer stuck to my mind along the way; I think it somehow represents my current journey as a young professional. For one, social entrepreneurship is still a developing field and has many nuances in the mainstream debate. I, on the other hand, would naturally try to explore something further to better understand it—even though I end up in something that seems unrelated at first sight.

Simply put—much like how social entrepreneurship is still evolving and understanding itself—I would say I am in the same situation. I want to immerse myself into different things to understand the field better (while, of course, trying to earn a decent income on the side). These are exciting times for social entrepreneurship, me, and all others who pour their hearts out into this field.

In this process of exploration and discovery, I find that volunteerism has been very helpful to my journey.

Apart from my previous volunteer work with MPI, I also work as a part-time volunteer in another non-profit organization. Through these various forms of volunteer work, I’m able to expose myself beyond my regular job.

If I had a main advice to young professionals like me, it’s to keep exploring and rediscovering themselves until they find that ‘sweet spot’. It’s not a smooth process—in fact, I often find myself laying in bed at night overthinking what my next steps would be. My next main advice is to just relax and take a breather, because many other people are experiencing the same things. It is, indeed, a shared experience that we should not rush or pressure ourselves into.

Volunteerism sounds like a very noble term. We start to imagine an individual working for philanthropic causes, or an individual putting themselves in unfamiliar situations to help others in need. If you look at the technical definition, it basically means “the act or practice of doing volunteer work in community service”. These are all true.

But I’ve come to realize that volunteerism is also about the self. We help others in need because it makes us happy, it gives us purpose, and at times it provides a transcendental feeling. It reminds me of what many people ascribe with today: self-care and self-love. Like what I learned in the annual training of MPI: we need to have inner peace and love first before we can start helping others with the best version of ourselves.

It also helps to reflect that volunteerism is not always about setting very high obligatory standards on ourselves. When imposing obligatory standards, volunteerism starts to feel something technical—it starts to feel like a bullet point on a to-do list. This is why I started looking at volunteerism as something that simply gives me joy.

The next time that young professionals out there like me engage in volunteer work—try not to treat it as a form of obligation. When treated with joy, volunteerism starts to feel like a constant stream of psychological flow.

Raising sons and daughters: The story of Alexa Mira Society, Inc.


Originally published at Manila Bulletin

Somewhere in Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City is an organization of dreamers, sustainability advocates, and youth volunteers who actively implement programs to create social impact in the lives of the community.

Alexa Mira Society Inc. (AMSI), a non-profit organization, gathers individuals to work toward this goal. As a young organization, AMSI targets families in Barangay Palatiw to become their beneficiaries in several programs that aim to enrich the creativity of children, uphold the family as an essential unit of society, and provide skills and knowledge for the beneficiaries to identify and implement livelihood opportunities.

Myla poses for a photo beside the kitchen of one of AMSI’s family beneficiaries, which owns a canteen frequented by locals from Palatiw

More than its programs, however, the advocacy of AMSI is tightly connected with the personal story of Myla Bicol, its founder.

The story of AMSI

Being the youngest of nine siblings, Myla witnessed how her parents struggled to make ends meet in the Philippines. Everything changed when she, together with her family, migrated to Canada. Growing up in a foreign country, she realized how fortunate her family was, that she dreamed of returning home someday to make a difference.

In 2006, Myla and her sister-in-law, Aileen de la Torre, started a business called L.I.F.E Works Creations. This gave them a reason to go back to the Philippines and jump-start programs mainly for children. With their efforts, over 1,600 children of Palatiw Elementary School received a complete set of school supplies.

The joy that Myla and Aileen saw in the children’s faces inspired them to do more. That made her more determined to advance her cause. She started making frequent trips to the Philippines. She visited a number of hospitals where she had the chance to speak with parents and their kids who are suffering from serious illnesses like cancer.

Myla also visited an orphanage where she spent time with abandoned children. In one of her visits, she chanced upon children out on the street late at night, sifting through mounds of garbage. From there, she started feeding and gift-giving programs, as well as providing scholarships to children who have the potential and determination to finish
their studies.

After several years of working to improve the lives of children in need, Myla realized her true calling—to become a mother. She and her husband decided to adopt a child. They named her Alexa Mira. Alexa came to their lives at the young age of nine months old.

For children and the family

Alexa became the inspiration for the name of AMSI. Today, one of AMSI’s main goals is to help more kids who are abandoned or neglected due to poverty. The organization continuously implements feeding programs for kids who are malnourished. It also helps children by providing them scholarships. In the future, AMSI aims to give a temporary home for pregnant women in the Philippines who are in crisis situations and are in need comprehensive care.

In 2018, AMSI began its first set of programs that were implemented by youth volunteers. Its flagship program, 4S On the Go, had four main components: The kids, livelihood, urban farming, and feeding programs, which were implemented from August to November 2018. Five family beneficiaries were brought into AMSI’s stead, where they participated in the programs and activities every Saturday of the week.

AMSI brought speakers, facilitators, and other competent individuals to share their experiences and their expertise to the family beneficiaries. From basic finance, nutrition, and wellness, down to introductory urban farming, the beneficiaries were exposed to an array of knowledge and skills, some of which they were able to apply in their daily lives.

Come July 2019, AMSI will begin its second round of programs, now focusing on kids, family, and livelihood development. AMSI will also begin to bring in more youth volunteers this year as it continues to expand its impact and operations.

One with the advocacy

Myla’s personal calling to motherhood and how this relates to the organization have been the driving force of AMSI ever since. Staying true to this advocacy, AMSI’s youth volunteers realized that the impact they bring to their beneficiaries has become encompassing and affects other aspects of their personal lives as well.

“AMSI allowed me to experience working [with] a team that’s devoted to a cause. My personal perceptions of myself, people, and society were given new light when I met Tita Myla, Alexa, and the rest of the team—especially our beneficiaries,” shares Eldrin Lee, AMSI Research and Development manager. “It made me realize that given our circumstances, we can do much more with our resources.”

For Mark Laceste, AMSI Impact Relations manager, he realized that the organization expanded his knowledge. “It shaped my ability to go beyond my understanding of the spectrum of women empowerment. Knowing their stories and struggles made me feel more grateful and appreciative of my life.”

AMSI Internal Operations manager Aki Nodado believes that the opportunity to transform the lives of others would come at the right time, when everyone needs it most. “It taught me to appreciate all that I have and all that I am now,” she adds. “It taught me to be grateful and become an instrument of uplifting the needy.”

During the culminating activity of AMSI’s program last December 2018, Myla shared how she felt that she has gained more sons and daughters, apart from Alexa, through the organization. Myla has always been the motherly type, tending to the needs of children and devoting much of her life in support of their development and education. Her calling toward motherhood led her to something more than what she initially asked for—and it will only get better along the way.